Absolutely Fabrizio

Middlesbrough 3 Ravanelli 26 (pen), 36, 81 Liverpool 3 Bjornebye 4, Barnes 29, Fowler 65 Attendance: 30,039
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The Independent Online
Fabrizio Ravanelli exposed more than his chest as Teesside revelled in three glimpses of the pounds 7m man's trademark celebration yesterday.

The vast majority in Riverside Stadium's record crowd of 30,039 were tickled to see the White Feather pull his new red shirt over his grey head after plundering each of the goals which gave him a hat-trick on his Premiership debut. But the visitors from Merseyside were less than amused to see the soft underbelly which undermined Liverpool's trophy challenge last season laid bare for the nation to see.

A banner draped across the giant tanker docked behind the north stand proclaimed "Boro's Ravanelli on the telly", and Match of the Day viewers saw not just the goal-scoring touch which persuaded Middlesbrough to pay pounds 7m to lure the 27-year-old Italian from Turin to Teesside, but lingering defensive limitations that could leave Anfield without a Championship for a seventh successive season. As Roy Evans lamented: "Ravanelli will always score goals but we gave him a nice start."

Evans's frustration was compounded by his side's failure to hold on to three leads after starting distinctly the more composed of the two teams. They led from the fourth minute when John Barnes, whose penalty winner against Queen's Park Rangers at Anfield secured Liverpool's last title, floated a free-kick to the left edge of the Middlesbrough box and Stig Inge Bjornebye struck the ball on the half-volley past Alan Miller.

Liverpool's left wing-back was the longest shot among the foreign legionnaires to claim the opening goal, at odds of 50-1, but the composed manner in which the Norwegian executed his half-chance emphasised the contrast between the sides in the opening 25 minutes. Middlesbrough struggled to match Liverpool's cohesion but their opening-day nerves were eased when the referee, Paul Alcock, punished Mark Wright for what seemed a fair sliding tackle on Juninho. Ravanelli thumped in the penalty kick and then, ignoring the Football Association's directive, flashed his chest in celebration of his first goal since the European Cup final in the Stadio Olimpico, in Rome, on 22 May.

Liverpool, with Patrik Berger on the injured list and no new boys to break in, were still in control at that stage and regained the lead in the 29th minute. Jason McAteer crossed from the right and Barnes trapped the ball on his chest before directing a left-footed shot past Miller and just inside the right post. Within six minutes, though, the Liverpool defenders left their goal exposed from a free-kick. Neil Cox delivered the ball from the right and Ravanelli's outstretched left foot did the rest.

The midfield dynamics of Emerson and the tireless foraging of his fellow Brazilian Juninho gave Middlesbrough a grip on the game after the break. But then, after 65 minutes, Bjornebye crossed from the left and the lurking Robbie Fowler applied the inevitable finishing touch at the far post. The three points seemed to be bound for Merseyside.

With 10 minutes left, however, Robbie Mustoe threaded a hopeful ball into the Liverpool box and Ravanelli shot in from a range of 10 yards.

"I couldn't have asked for anything more from him," Bryan Robson said of his signing from Juventus. Asked to describe Ravanelli's qualities, his new boss replied: "He puts the ball in the back of the net." Early evidence of that predatory skill cost Liverpool two points yesterday. But it may prove a blessing disguised by a Boro top. Roy Evans has 37 games to cover up his suspect rearguard.

Ravanelli decided not to throw his No 11 shirt to his new admirers. "I will be keeping it and I will be keeping the match ball," he said. "It has been a very interesting day."

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